|Crusaders v Hurricanes: Saturday 3.15 (AEST)
at AMI Stadium, Christchurch
|Best Bet: Hurricanes +5 ($1.90)
Value Bet: Hurricanes 1-12 ($3.40)
The final round of the regular season really fires up as two Kiwi heavyweights square off in a game that could change the complexion of the top-eighth picture.
Owen Franks and Jordan Taufua have been declared fit in a big boost for the Crusaders. Meanwhile, injured Hurricanes centre Matt Proctor has been replaced by former NRL star Ngani Laumape.
In 29 previous encounters, the Crusaders have won 17 and the Hurricanes just nine, with three games drawn. The Hurricanes have won five of the previous seven, however. The Crusaders prevailed 35-18 at home against the table-topping ’Canes last season.
The Crusaders went down to the Chiefs by 10 points in Fiji to continue their poor run against fellow NZ heavyweights, but they responded with an 85-26 annihilation of the Rebels at home last weekend. Sporting an 11-3 record with the second-ranked attack and fourth-best defence, the Crusaders are one point behind the conference-leading Chiefs.
The Hurricanes pulled off arguably their best win of the season last week, a 29-17 upset of the Waratahs in Sydney. Their 10-4 record – with the fourth-best attack and sixth-ranked defence – is good enough for fourth in the NZ Conference, but they are only three points adrift of the Chiefs.
Beauden Barrett has continued the form that saw him lauded as the star of the All Blacks’ series against Wales, while this weekend represents a big test for the Crusaders’ rookie No.10 Richie Mo’unga.
Stats That Matter
The Crusaders are 9-5 against the start in 2016, while the Hurricanes are also 9-5 ATS this year. The Crusaders are 11-4 at home since the start of last season (overall and against the start). The Hurricanes are 11-4 on the road since the start of 2016 (overall and ATS). Home sides are 70-52-3 this season (66-60 against the start). Home favourites are 62-21 overall and 48-34 ATS in 2016.
The Crusaders are warm favourites at home, but their inability to get over their fellow Kiwi contenders – losing to the Chiefs twice and going down convincingly to the Highlanders – is a concern ahead of this one. The Hurricanes, on the other hand, are battle-hardened from a tough encounter with Waratahs, along with a win over the Highlanders just before the international break. Destined to go down to the wire, and the influence of Barrett shapes as the decisive factor in this crunch game.
The Way It’s Shaping
Hurricanes by 2
Hurricanes +5 ($1.90)
Hurricanes 1-12 ($3.40)